Google goes after mug shot sites

A group of websites has built a thriving trade by posting arrest records online, then demanding anywhere from $30 to $400 from users who want to remove the compromising images. Lawmakers have so far failed to put a stop to the sites, but now the the mug shot industry faces a new challenge that could imperil its business model.

According to the New York Times, Google(s goog) last week made adjustments to its algorithms, thus booting sites like Mugshots and BustedMugshots off the front page of its search rankings. Meanwhile, companies like MasterCard and PayPal are moving to end payment support for the sites.

The move is good news for people whose pictures appear on the sites — even if they are never convicted of a crime — and suffer humiliation and career damage as a result. And paying to remove a picture from one site often leads to the image popping up on another site that likewise demands money.

The response by Google and the payment processors comes at a time when state lawmakers are struggling with how to deal with the mug shot sites: while the sites’ business model may amount to extortion, the pictures they show are taken from public records that are valuable to journalists, safety advocates and others.

Image by Rob Byron via Shutterstock.